It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent, so before I go to church for Christmas, it seemed fitting that I stop and worship in the final days of this season of preparation. So I put on my blue top, my blue scarf, and my blue socks, and drove in the snow to church. It was really, really, really snowing.
I have to admit. When I visit a church, I can’t help but notice those things they do well, and, yes, those things done not so well. I’m especially mindful of welcome and hospitality because that’s basic church 101. After all, Jesus taught that what we are to do is love God and love each other. He also made clear that the each other we love are not only those we already love but also the stranger, the hungry, the prisoner, the naked, the thirsty–those kind of friends.
Bless their hearts, though the folks at the church where I worshipped this morning preached about being community, the parish didn’t quite rise to the occasion.
They were having baptisms today and had special worship booklets. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given one. Two passes by the ushers later in the service, and I scored an order for worship, but I was curious that none of the folks around me tried to help when they saw I was a little lost. If I had been new to Episcopal worship, I would have felt quite the outsider.
Then there was The Peace, that part of worship where we greet one another in the name of the Lord. It often becomes a meet and greet for our friends and family. As in so many parishes, The Peace lasted an extended length of time. I greeted those near me, but as The Peace continued, I was left ignored in my pew except for two dear souls who crossed the aisle to wish me peace. I could have gone off on my own to offer peace, but I was curious about what would happen. I am sad to say that several parishioners greeted folks on either side of me without greeting me. I was fine with being overlooked, but how would another guest have felt?
Finally, there was the dead battery incident. The snow was really coming down after church, and after a snowy walk to my car, I discovered that I had left my lights on, and my battery was dead. I trudged back into church to ask for help. One person said he’d noticed my lights on (why didn’t he make an announcement?), but couldn’t help. Another suggested that I call AAA. I am sorry to say that no one offered me any assistance. My son and grandson came and jump-started my battery after a very cold wait.
This is not to be critical of this parish specifically but to share what I fear would be too common a worship experience in far too many parishes. I know that when I return from sabbatical in two weeks my experience will inspire some conversation in my own parish.
All too often we in churches welcome and are hospitable only to people we already know. I do not think that Jesus is pleased when that’s how we act.
I was left very sad after worship today. In a world that less and less knows the love of Christ, we in the church must offer our very best for those guests who have the courage to come through our doors.
It is the true meaning of Christmas.